The Quantum Karateka

…step outside the dojo.


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Reflections on the study group

I don’t wanna write this down
I wanna tell you how I feel right now
I don’t wanna take no time to write this down
I wanna tell you how I feel right now…

Mos Def

So it’s been a little over a month now since I’ve started my study group. We’ve had eleven sessions so far. What began as a once a week thing then doubled into twice a week. What originally began in my Sensei’s dojo has since moved to another location. And what began with one person has now become three people, albeit not all at the same time.

So I should be pretty satisfied with this fair amount of progress in such a short amount of time, shouldn’t I?

Kinda sorta.

I always feel sad and mildly disappointed when people have to cancel or don’t bother to call when they don’t show up. It makes me feel like I suck, that I’m not doing enough or that maybe I’m following the wrong path in life. And there’s always this smoldering anxiety, more intense on some days than others, that I’m just not good enough or skilled enough to even be doing what I’m doing, despite my explicit intention not to make this group be about that. The way I like to see it sometimes is like: I’m in a punk band; I can only play three chords on the guitar; my voice quality is less singing and more screaming; and I can only play songs at one tempo…barely.

But I happen to like those qualities actually. I’ve always enjoyed tinkering and putting things together. I like making do with what I have. I like the idea of being a “bastard”/DIY martial artist, musician and filmmaker, but kicking ass none-the-less. I like proving to people that you don’t need tons of money, prestigious degrees or loads of charisma to bring your vision forth into the world. I mean, those things can help you of course. But the quality I find to be most important in any endeavor is integrity. Why do you do what you do? What is at the root of your pursuit? In a world where just looking like the part can get you the part, who or what is the real thing? It’s like, you can have big name actors in your film, a big budget, a big studio to financially back you, a big everything, and if your basic script/storyline sucks, then what do you really have? You have a lot of make-up to cover over the blemishes. A lot of chemical freshener to cover up the smell. A lot of paint to hide the rot.

Well, like I said, I like the idea of being a DIY-bastard artist, but shit ain’t always so fluffy if you know what I mean. My analyst wondered aloud at my last session why it was that I seemed to lack self-confidence and self-esteem. Together we speculated that maybe it had something to do with the fact that I’ve always moved around as a child and into my adolescence. Always a feeling of instability and uncertainty and temporality. Settling down and making friends in one place, only to move and have to do it all over again. Yeah, it would be easy to blame my father for this, for it was his job that forced me into those circumstances. But, no. It’s not anyone’s fault. Viktor Frankl could have easily blamed the Nazi’s for a shitty life, but then he wouldn’t have had the impetus to write Man’s Search for Meaning.

Anyway, back to my study group reflections. I’m really curious to know how far this will go. I’m surprised that things have actually been working out well. Having a space to do this in was the biggest thing. Where we’re at now is on the second floor of a music rehearsal studio. The guy who owns it is a guy whom I used to know in my early twenties when I rented out a drum room from him. I never thought over a decade later I’d be using his make-shift gym for my training or that he even did martial arts at all. And if I hadn’t gotten this job I currently have, then I wouldn’t have jammed with my co-worker at this very studio which is how I found out about the space in the first place. It’s really kind of a trip actually. I mean, if I just rewind all that, I wouldn’t even be doing any of this if I hadn’t made the decision to move back to Torrance (aka, the little village from which I left back in 2012). It’s really quite amazing actually.

Wow.

So wherever this group is going, I don’t know. I certainly do have a better, more evolved vision for it than I did back in Oakland. I think it lasted about a month over there before I stopped it and then made my way to Seattle. If anybody’s interested, here’s a link to the Meetup site I created (again):

www.meetup.com/Grappling-Hands-Circle/

Yeah, that’s right, I graphic designed that fairly cool logo myself. Although I basically copped the format from something else. Well, cool compared to the original logo I had, which now just seems like a stick-figure drawing in my eyes. The logo doesn’t matter anyways; I just needed to have something that could visually represent the group. Although, I always have an eye for aesthetics. I mean I think form is less important than function, but form can look good too no? It’s like the logo for a band or the font titles for a movie. You could have the best made album/movie in the history of music/film, but if your packaging sucks, then I don’t wanna own that shit. Sorry, digression…

One last thing to leave you with: a video clip of me and my training buddy Anthony tinkering with some made-up applications for Fukyukata Ichi. Not sure that Nagamine Sensei incorporated any combative strategy when he thought up this kata; not to say he didn’t. But we decided to pick apart this kata because it’s so basic and because it’s so stereotypical of what karate looks like to laypeople (down blocks/upper blocks and straight punches in the air). Here it is (it’s okay you can laugh; I’m new at this applied stuff):

Peace.
– Quantum

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The death of the Oracle and the end of this blog

Greetings my fellow citizens,

Yesterday, October 5th, 2015, the eminent philosopher and activist Grace Lee Boggs died at her home in east Detroit. She was 100 years of age. As you may or may not know, this blog was begun during the last month of my time in Detroit. I considered it a kind of creative expression of my thoughts, much inspired by the literal journey I began there and the new sense of self it had given to me, not only in relation to karate. The graffiti I once saw on a wall there sums it up best: “There is no try in DetrOIT”. In other words, DO IT. Whatever it is…a spiritual journey, pursuing your passions, or starting a blog. Do it. Now. Don’t wait. There’s no time. The world needs you. We are the leaders we’ve been waiting for.

And so, with the death of the great Grandmother – the old woman who has seen epochs – the great sage who admonished us with the question, “What time is it on the clock of the world?” – with her passing, comes the passing of this blog. A small pin prick in the vast universe of the internet.

Thank you Grace. For bringing us together. For inspiring me with your ideas. For living long and being brave enough to change with the times…

“Don’t get stuck in old ideas.”

– The Quantum Karateka


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Karate nursery rhyme

“Karate is like…”

…a lift-gate slamming down on your toes

Or like the misfortune of getting caught in some farm machinery by a piece of your clothes

Karate is joints bending in the wrong direction

And other extreme damage that’ll totally ruin fuck up your complexion

Eye gouges and testicle grabs

Definitely unsportsmanlike

This is dirty fighting down to a science

Not about looking nice.

– QK


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Essay by Greg Leisure: Part 11 (of 11)

The following essay was written by Greg Leisure, a reader of this blog and a fellow karate student from Okinawa, Japan. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and are presented here in order to provoke intelligent thought and discussion. They do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of The Quantum Karateka. Readers should be thinking for themselves and asking questions.  – – Enjoy!


11. Conclusion

“We can’t be afraid of change. You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea. Holding onto something that is good for you now, may be the very reason why you don’t have something better.”
― C. JoyBell C.

“Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

My martial art is karate, and it has been estimated that fifty million people all over the world practice it. I am not sure if that number is accurate, but I am also willing to bet that karate students worldwide are declining in numbers. That is probably due to the rise of professional mixed martial artist fighters and the popularity of MMA, which has captured the eyes of millions on TV.

Does that mean that karate has to disappear as MMA training nudges itself into the martial arts market? I don’t know. It might. But it appears that MMA is not a fad. It has certainly captured the imaginations of many as its popularity continues to grow, and more MMA gyms and their training methods are coming into the scene year after year.

I think karate has to ask itself: Is karate best as an aspect of self-defense, or is karate perfect in its training methods and in need of nothing else for any violent situation that may come about? The logical and intellectually honest answer screams the former. This question lets one clearly see that karate can be an integral part of self-defense and cannot be the most comprehensive on its own. Therefore, if karate wants to thrive and grow stronger in the 21st Century it needs to embrace elements of MMA training.

Some traditionalists may resist, pointing out that karate already has aspects of other martial arts built into it, therefore making it unnecessary to learn new techniques and training methods. And that may be so with a few techniques from other systems scattered around in some of the kata. But realistically those techniques are few and may not be given the training time to become proficient enough to use them. For instance, training those techniques may require mats and if a dojo does not have any, then in all probability such techniques will be neglected and no skill will be developed. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, other styles’ techniques found within kata, even if mastered, do nothing to prepare for attacks from other fighting styles.

Karate, or more accurately, those dojo which have yet not moved toward a more dynamic training method, desperately needs to have an internal renaissance, allowing innovation in order to create more well-rounded fighters who can apply effective techniques in a short amount of time. It is a disservice to students to tell them that they need years of training to master techniques before being able to use them effectively. Keeping karate and its kata as its core, dojo can integrate aspects of MMA. Karate should not concern itself with keeping tradition more than the interests of students looking for effective self-defense.

Hundreds of years ago Okinawans looked west and took seeds from Chinese martial arts and grew them into karate. Having become a proud part of Okinawan culture, karate masters may be reluctant to change, not understanding that they have begun to treat karate more like how Rob Redmond of 24 Fighting Chickens refers to it as, “a cultural preservation society.”

Did the original pioneers of karate intend for it to become a cultural preservation society, or were they concerned with continuing to develop the best system and techniques for fighting that they were capable of?

I do not deny that karate is effective for self-defense, but I do question if it is the best, or if its training cannot be much improved upon in order to make it the best. Surely it can; everything can be improved. And because of that, I wonder if it is time that Okinawan dojo and their instructors look East to America’s MMA and its training methods for developing the fully well-rounded fighter.

I will venture to say that many dojo in America have already admitted to themselves the superior abilities demonstrated by MMA fighters, and have already adopted, or are beginning to adopt their training methods. Other dojo might adopt them more quickly if they had approval by their symbolic head, which is usually a karate master in Okinawa or mainland Japan. It could be the disapproval of these masters not wanting to dilute karate that is keeping many schools from adapting.

Okinawan and Japanese masters could be standing in the way of this potential sea change either because as said, they do not want the purity of karate diluted, or they are unaware of MMA and what it means, or what it could mean for improving karate, self-defense, and the market for future students. However, if masters are humble (which is a character trait that is supposedly admired and encouraged through karate training), then pride should not prevent them from admitting they have things to learn from the West concerning martial arts as self-defense and its training methods. It could very well be however that pride in their art and culture could prevent them from doing what is necessary for the further development of karate for self-defense.

If Okinawan karate masters as heads of their federations do not permit their satellite dojo from incorporating MMA methods into their karate, I would then suggest that if these dojo have the best interest of their students in mind for self-defense purposes, they should then amicably break the relationship and continue forward into the future on their own.

Okinawa does not own karate, even though it is often treated as a Mecca amongst instructors and students. Karate belongs to the world just like any other thing*. Do cars belong to the U.S? Do CEOs of Japanese car manufacturers keep an American automobile company president as their symbolic chairman? Of course not. They are independent from America and produce just as fine quality cars, if not better. Japanese care manufacturers are independent because they have matured. Therefore, dojo around the world need to grow up and get over this feeling of a need to have an Okinawan or Japanese symbolic head. It is just plain flattery at best and condescending at worse to insist on having one.

Like most things, karate does not benefit by allowing it to be under a monopoly. Market wide goods and services prosper when they are free of a single controlling entity. One should not fall under the delusion of having legitimacy just because one’s symbolic head is a master from Okinawa or Japan. One does not need to be recognized by such for stature in the martial arts community. Though it may be getting harder to resist now that the Okinawan prefectural government has begun to promote karate worldwide in an effort to keep its Mecca status amongst karate students, thus ensuring more visitors for economic benefit for the prefecture – and dojo run as businesses.

As a resident of Okinawa for over twenty years, I hope for economic prosperity for the prefecture, as well as the joys of karate becoming known by more people around the world. But I do not feel that the karate world is serving the interests of self-defense by allowing karate to be owned by a particular people or its culture. Such a thing has more to do with a profit motive than a self-defense motive.

It’s an unhealthy relationship when an entity looks to another entity to justify its legitimacy. Many dojo in America, Europe, and South America simply feel they need to have a direct relationship to a living master of his or her own dojo in Okinawa or Japan. Let’s face it, many high ranking foreign martial artists are just as skilled as their Japanese and Okinawan counterparts. Is it genuine modesty that they proclaim to still have a lot to learn from their Okinawan master? Or is the relationship more of a marketing scheme so that they can crow that they have a direct living link to Okinawa?

Look at the websites of karate schools. Lineages, a real live Okinawan sensei and a ‘home’ dojo in Japan are often touted as a point of pride. I can understand such a display when the Okinawan sensei taught the foreign sensei who now has his/her own dojo. But this is harder to accept when the original relationship no longer exists because of a death, or when the teacher’s offspring is left as the dynastic head to govern the relationship. In any case, is such a thing healthy for self-defense training? Or are such relationships based more on money, benefiting head master and satellite master equally due to marketing and bragging rights?

If a dojo fails to accept the superiority of MMA methods and how they can benefit karate because an Okinawan/Japanese master is standing in the way of change, then the student does not benefit. Karate can integrate MMA training methods without losing its essence. Karate dojo can still be karate dojo, but with karate as a core they should move towards adopting MMA training methods alongside their already established methods involving kata, kihon, and waza.

Adopting other methods is in the best tradition of karate and its students, and can lead to a renaissance of the art. By being dynamic, karate will see itself grow. By not doing so, karate will dwindle to irrelevance, digging itself into a grave due to pride, inflexibility, selfishness, and a desire for profit.

“We are products of our past, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it.”
― Rick Warren



Final Review: 

Key Words and Concepts for Further Promotion, Thought, and Discussion within Karate and the Martial Arts Community

The key words and concepts I’d like one to remember from this writing are: acting out pre-attack situations, adrenaline dump, gradual violence, sudden violence, psychological reaction, stand-up kumite, ground fighting, progressing from stand-up fighting to ground fighting, one to one fighting, multiple attackers, distancing, timing, positioning, knife attack, pipe/stick attack, stamina, plan B, delusion/overconfidence, claims of self-defense training vs. competition in sports, testing claims with scientific method, ALIVE training, resistance in testing technique, non-cooperation in testing technique, proving technique in kumite, guest instructors and students, open invitation class to other fighters, kumite option during class, dojo environment encouraging kumite, equipment such as floor mats which can be put down and taken up quickly, traditionalist and purist versus reformer and radical, questioning, dynamic training.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”
― Albert Einstein


End of Part 11


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Essay by Greg Leisure: Part 10 (of 11)

The following essay was written by Greg Leisure, a reader of this blog and a fellow karate student from Okinawa, Japan. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and are presented here in order to provoke intelligent thought and discussion. They do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of The Quantum Karateka. Readers should be thinking for themselves and asking questions.  – – Enjoy!


10. It Has to be Dynamic

“Variety is the condition of harmony.”
– Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) British historian and essayist.

“Sameness is the mother of disgust, variety the cure.”
– Petrarch

All dojo have different kinds of students. There are kids, teenagers, young adults and those of middle-age. Some are older or have disabilities. No student should be pressured or forced to do kumite, but there should be encouragement to do so.

At times, a class can be divided into a kumite half and a kata half. Those who wish to do kata that night can join the kata half. Those who wish to train in kumite can join the kumite half. And those who wish to observe the kumite should be allowed to do so as well, rather than being forced to do kata just because they do not want to do kumite.

The fact is, and more importantly the point is, a fight is dynamic. The preparation and training method for this must also be dynamic. The environment/atmosphere and option to participate in kumite should be regularly offered to students. Real self-defense or fighting is larger than any one style of martial arts. If a dojo cannot offer training that deals with the major parts of a real fight, then I would suggest that they are not offering self-defense, but instead an incomplete training program, or simply an “art” style.

It is not realistic to expect students to be members of two or three different dojo in order to fully develop skills in self-defense. But it is realistic to expect a dojo, which claims to teach self-defense, to offer realistic training experiences. Furthermore, it is not realistic to expect well-rounded self-defensive skill to develop through only one mode of training (such as kata) or when not partnered with another student who is resisting and being uncooperative.

I do not deny that kata and waza training assists in developing fighting skill, but I do believe that only kata and waza are not enough to maximize one’s potential. While performing kata may help to calm one’s mind, it cannot prepare a person for a violent experience where an intelligent opponent’s actions are unpredictable. It also does not address the natural reactions of the mind and its chemical productions while under stress. Kata does not teach a student how a punch or kick feels, nor to have a backup plan in case one’s main strategy fails. Only kumite, through standing strikes, throwing, tripping, and grappling on the ground can best fill in those gaps. No matter how skilled a person may be, they cannot know the skill of one’s opponent(s) beforehand nor can they expect their techniques to be perfectly carried out.

In addition, stamina is not developed in kata. In a fight, a person will exert themselves against an opponent who likewise will be doing the same, if not more. This clash of fighters, if the violence is not brought to a quick end, will require stamina in order for one to survive. This is body against body. In kata it is only body against air – no resistance. Bunkai cannot really be seen as a clashing of bodies. This is more of a controlled exercise by both parties, so there is no great sweating or trying to outsmart your opponent. The end is decided before it begins. Bunkai by itself is inadequate as a complete fighting training method.

And if the martial artist comes to believe that the end is over before it begins, as the kata may trick him into believing, then he is living in a delusion. Furthermore, hitting the air in kata training or even planned striking and blocking in bunkai, is not the same as hitting a body. How the body and fist reacts in these two different cases is totally different. The dynamics are just not the same.

The main principle of self-defense training is to be prepared; that is why we train. If one is relying on kata with its predetermined victorious outcome, then one is not being prepared. If one is overconfident through years of kata and other karate training without a back up plan developed through kumite experience (doing stand-up and ground fighting), then what they are doing is a limited and narrow version of fighting, not complete self-defense.

In art, beauty is decided by the observer and is different for each individual’s experience. I suggest that self-defense however should not be described as art. Its basis is in actual fact. Either one is the winner or loser. The final outcome does not depend on an observer.

“Arts” in martial arts has come to mean style, and now it is the situation that students of many karate styles are almost defenseless on the ground. In other words, the perception of karate as art has undermined the ability for one to effectively defend themselves.

Should karate concern itself most with the method of victory, or victory itself? Certainly, the method could be considered art, but if it does not result in victory, then where is its value? I suggest that if the method has borders around it, then creativity is limited. Why would one impose a limit on creativity if such an activity was meant to defend you or your child’s life?

Furthermore, speaking of the duty of a mother or father to defend their child in an attack, those who study karate, aikido, jujutsu, judo, etc, should seriously consider the meaning of “self” when describing their art as self-defense. The fact is, a situation may not be just about you. “Self” is selfish. It is too narrow. Martial artists might be reaching for a more noble goal if they thought more about using their skills for others who find themselves as targets of attacks.

A more meaningful expression of one’s study might be “fighting system”. So rather than say “My style of self-defense is karate” one could say, “My fighting system style is karate.” The latter is more expansive in its use, and language can be a powerful tool that shapes our thoughts. I maintain that it’s a better character trait to be thinking of serving others with one’s skills rather than oneself.

Karate needs to expand its definition of itself by being more inclusive in its training and techniques, and regularly train those newer additions just as much as kicks and blocks. It will still be karate, but one that has evolved, just as past masters were creative and added new techniques to what they were taught from their previous master. If they did not freeze karate’s development, then why should teachers and students of today’s karate freeze its development? By freezing karate’s development they are insulting the memory and tradition of dynamic change that was embraced by past masters, if not also insulting those masters by not learning from their example of continued innovation.

Would it be bad for today’s sensei and students to create new kata? If so, why? Is it the traditionalist mindset that prevents such newer innovation from coming to be? Is one’s dojo tolerant of students creating their own kata? Why don’t they encourage that as creative exercise? Surely, one does not think everything is perfect the way it is, do they? Is it not humble if one thinks they can improve karate — not just one’s own karate, but karate itself? Does one’s dojo encourage questions and actively listen to suggestions?

Why is it considered “superior” for some dojo not to include kumite as part of the training method when knowing that being hit for the first time in a fight could be a traumatic experience? How does the body move differently in clothes versus a gi, barefoot versus shoes, and how does it affect the whole dynamic of a fight situation as well as the effectiveness of a fighting system? If one is using their body to shield another person while fighting at the same time, how does that change things, and does one’s dojo instruction study such a situation? Wouldn’t a mother or father or even a stranger who is protecting a child find such training very useful?

The possibilities are numerous and students and instructors of fighting systems should be concerned with it enough to create dynamic training methods. Yes, the main points of a fighting system should be kept, as well as kata training and waza. But letting those become inflexible routines ends up defining a style or dojo as a prison rather than a dynamic system which is able to meet a variety of situations.*

*[Editor’s Note: For more on dynamic systems, check out Margaret Wheatley’s excellent book, Leadership and the New Science.]

“Diversity creates dimension in the world.”
– Elizabeth Ann Lawless


End of Part 10